Lawmakers should support U.S. Rep. Adam Smith’s proposal to create new oversight and standards for immigration detention centers.
In its Preamble, the U.S. Constitution says we are committed to securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
Our posterity means future generations of Americans, many of whom will be immigrants.
Lawmakers who have thwarted efforts to ensure decent and humane treatment of people imprisoned by our immigration bureaucracy should keep that pledge in mind.
Then they should give serious consideration to the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act of 2015. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, introduced the bill last week with the support of Reps. Rick Larsen, Suzan DelBene, Jim McDermott and others. It’s a second run at a noble plan that Smith floated last year but which died in committee.
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In light of disturbing conditions at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Tacoma, and reports of mistreatment at centers around the country, Smith called for new oversight and standards. They include limits on solitary confinement and requirements for adequate nutrition and prompt medical attention.
Such a law should not be necessary in America in 2015. But the immigration system is distorted by partisanship, xenophobia, conflicted guidance and pressure from companies that are paid a fortune to run detention centers, including the one in Tacoma.
ICE now oversees the largest detention system in the country yet most of the more than 400,000 people locked in its facilities annually are not a threat. Most have never been convicted of a crime or they committed minor, nonviolent crimes, according to a scathing report last month from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and The Center for Migration Studies.
“For those without criminal histories, detention can be a dispiriting, even crushing response from a nation which they will soon join, rejoin, or be forced to leave, and from which they had hoped far better and more,” the report says.
The Obama administration has pursued reforms since 2009 and ICE last week pledged to improve conditions and provide more oversight of family detention centers. But the system remains flawed with an overemphasis on detention.
Smith’s plan calls for diverting more immigrants — when appropriate and safe — away from detention and into community supervision programs while their cases are resolved.
Local supervision is far more economical and civil. But the system is tilted to keep detention beds full, which ensures steady revenue for detention-center operators.
Smith’s proposal would address this largesse by eliminating a ridiculous mandate that Congress created in 1996, requiring that ICE detain at least 34,000 people a day.
The debate over comprehensive immigration reform will intensify as the 2016 election approaches. Perhaps that will help leaders figure out our values and where we stand in the more populous and interconnected world.
Meanwhile, it’s time to stop wasting money on unnecessary detentions and treat people caught in the system with the dignity they deserve.